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50 Reasons We Still Love The Beatles’ Abbey Road

Nostalgic, funny, and gutting, here’s why we’re still listening 50 years later

The Beatles - Abbey Road
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Gimme a Reason takes classic albums celebrating major anniversaries and breaks down song by song the reasons we still love them so many years later. Today, we celebrate 50 years of The Beatles’ Abbey Road.

Fifty years ago this month, The Beatles came out with Abbey Road — the last album they ever recorded as a group, and, alongside Let It Be, the closing cap on their decade-long tenure as the biggest popular phenomenon in musical history.

Abbey Road has a singular feel compared to the rest of their albums: at once cohesively recognizable as its own project and easily traceable to their other work. It received mixed reviews upon its release, but its critical and public reputations have only grown in the 50 years since, thanks partly to expanding perspectives and partly to the increasing and almost mythical feeling of finality surrounding it. The Beatles quit while they were ahead about as surely as a band can, and they never attempted any comeback albums or tours or performances that might have diluted their closing curtain or tacked something else onto it — meaning, Abbey Road is it.

It’s this, perhaps, that calls the entire character of the band to mind during a listen of Abbey Road. It’s not just any album; it’s one rooted, steeped in story and history. There are things that it honors and things that it questions and things that it shows us.

In honor of the album’s anniversary, we’ve put together a list of 50 moments and details that define or recall what was, and still is, great about the album and the band who made it. It’s a hard thing to confine to a solid list, a strange and kind of unnatural thing to measure. But here it is, in an effort to acknowledge one of the greatest albums and bands in history and what about them stays with us even today.

Click ahead for 50 reasons we still love crossing Abbey Road…


“Come Together”

01. The beginning track sees the band literally coming together. The end (again, literally) finds them showing their separate strengths — but more on this later.

02. The drums rolling through the beginning of “Come Together”.

03. The snappiness of “Come Together” and John Lennon’s vocals — for a song that begins with a steadily undulating current of guitar, the beat is kept pointed and abrupt. The way the song is recorded is jabbing and sharp in a way one doesn’t quite notice at first.


“Something”

04. George Harrison — his remembered presence is perhaps stronger on Abbey Road than on any other Beatles album. It’s a strange comparison to even approach, because of course, no Beatles album could have been what it was without him — the magic of the group, as has often been pointed out, comes from each of their four corners and meets in the middle. But some of Harrison’s most treasured songwriting contributions, and some of the most treasured songs of the whole Beatles discography, period, are “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun”, and Abbey Road holds both of them.

05. Harrison was initially apprehensive about even sharing “Something” with the group, offering it to Joe Cocker instead. It wound up becoming Harrison’s first-ever A-side on a Beatles release.

06. The music video for “Something”. The Beatles made some of the first pioneering ventures into the field of music videos, and “Something” is a beautiful example of this, and it also captures the love that each band member had for his wife at that moment in time.

07. “Something” gets a reputation for being “the greatest love song ever written,” or at least one of them, a praise perhaps first coined by Frank Sinatra of all people. What makes “Something” a holy piece of music is the place it finds, and holds, among all these others. It isn’t overly flashy; there’s something in it that just wants to be heard and listened to. “You’re asking me, will my love grow? / I don’t know, I don’t know.” You could say it isn’t even about professing profound love so much as just attending to a moment, the moment when one person notices the magic in another, and honoring that for its own self without any expectation or need for what comes after.

08. Speaking of George Harrison — the personas. Harrison shows us one last time the “quiet Beatle” who in actuality forms the spine of the group, elevating the album with his finest and most evolved compositions thus far; Lennon flashes his bad-boy side in “Polythene Pam” and his grave, honest devotion in “I Want You/She’s So Heavy”; Paul McCartney shows off his vocal, powerful love on “Oh! Darling”; Ringo Starr gets cheesy on “Octopus’s Garden” while also forming the beat of the entire album.


“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”

09. Rose and Valerie in “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” — because no Beatles sendoff would have been complete without a little falsetto

10. All of the other characters! Maxwell and his victims, Mean Mr. Mustard, Polythene Pam. Who are they talking about? There’s a weird tradition attached to The Beatles of mythologizing the names they choose for their songs. They take influence, presumably, from the people around them and real-life situations, and then they wind up merging them and crafting them into this catalog of strange people whose stories exist and live primarily inside their music. There’s the lonesome Eleanor Rigby, the charming Dr. Roberts. Lovely Rita, Sexy Sadie, Michelle, Julia, Anna — these were all beautiful women who enticed, tormented, and enchanted them on previous albums. On Abbey Road, we get a murderer whose weapon of choice is a hammer, a science student, a sun king, a “mean” and “dirty old man,” and a woman wearing a polythene bag. What’s up with that?


“Oh! Darling”

11. McCartney’s howling vocals in “Oh! Darling”. The Beatles have such a glaringly bright history that it can be easy to lose sight of specific, smaller periods in the wash of the whole thing — but it’s hard to listen to “Oh! Darling” and not think back to the band’s formation at the end of the 1950s, their shared love for rock ‘n’ roll, and McCartney’s raw, screaming vocals in later hits like their cover of Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally”.

12. McCartney said that he recorded the vocals for “Oh! Darling” every day for a week, because he wanted it to sound and feel as though he had been playing the song at live shows every night.


“I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”

13. The simple, uncluttered lyrics of “I Want You/She’s So Heavy”.

14. “I Want You” switching into “She’s So Heavy” — the contrast and cohesion, when you get what you want and it’s heavy, and it’s been heavy all along. The number of times the guitar changes its pace and mood between the blended songs and the split that follows the line, “It’s driving me…” The guitar comes in smoothly and effortlessly, fitting right in with the existing architecture of the song.

15. The weighted pause between “She’s so” and “heavy,” and the felt anguish behind the word “heavy” when it finally comes.

16. The wind at the end of “I Want You/She’s So Heavy”.

17. Both sides of the album end abruptly, and, in a sense, chaotically — and as much as you try to stretch out and honor any good ending, a real ending will always feel that way.

18. Lennon/McCartney. There’s far more division between the famous partners than there is, well, partnership, on Abbey Road — the album has clear Lennon songs and clear McCartney songs. But the album as a whole finds a middle road between them, maneuvering relatively evenly between each member’s separate songwriting input and executive decisions, and it’s strangely this friction that winds up most balancing the album.


“Here Comes the Sun”

19. The thematic roundness of the album — the light in “Here Comes the Sun” and “Sun King” peeking through the middle of the album, and then later, in the ending suite, the building lullaby in “Golden Slumbers”.


“Because”

20. The vocal layering in “Because”

21. The forwardness. There’s a moment in the composition of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and its closing tour de force, “A Day in the Life,” when McCartney has recounted in interviews exchanging a knowing glance with Lennon about the line, “I’d love to turn you on,” referencing Tim Leary’s phrase, “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” In “Because,” it’s, “Because the sky is blue, it turns me on.” They’re still turned on, they’re still psychedelic, but maybe…

22. Not quite as obvious about it this time? Sgt. Pepper is a drug album; Abbey Road isn’t, at least not in the same way. But in songs like “Because,” that tension is still there. By 1969, the Beatles had moved beyond the constraints of public perception they’d observed more strictly in their beginnings. They were the world’s sweethearts, and they liked sex and drugs. In the public’s view, they might have been a far cry from the simpler love songs of their early days out of Liverpool, but by Abbey Road, the whole decade of the ’60s had gone by, and both the band and their worldwide audience had matured and shifted in unforeseen ways.


“You Never Give Me Your Money”

23. “You Never Give Me Your Money” was written as a complaint against Allen Klein and the business side of music. The Beatles never kept quiet about their love for love itself, but they also didn’t keep quiet when they were dissatisfied with something — which, in 1969, seemed to be increasingly the case.

24. The cricket-like sounds at the end of “You Never Give Me Your Money”. The Beatles had used animals in their music elsewhere (“Hey Bulldog”, “Good Morning Good Morning”), but it feels much more unexpected and subtle, less announced, here.

25. The line, “Step on the gas and wipe that tear away.” Even in their final album, The Beatles were still all about forward motion — the feeling in “You Never Give Me Your Money” is very much that they’ll give us this one last celebration, sure, this final reunion, but then they’re off! Embracing the “magic feeling” of “nowhere to go”.

26. “One sweet dream came true today”– they don’t specify whose dream, or which. One of their personal dreams? Some stranger’s out there in the world? It doesn’t matter — what’s important and worth rejoicing about is only that a dream came true and that it was sweet. We don’t see the dream itself, but we feel the faith in it.

Click ahead for more reasons we still love crossing Abbey Road…


“Mean Mr Mustard”

27. The way “Mean Mr Mustard,” coming right after the dreamy “Sun King”, feels sharp and catchy, like an awakening. It knocks you off guard a bit.

28. The moment that the beat changes in “Mean Mr Mustard”, when the drums shift and segue into “such a dirty old man.”

29. The British-ness — Abbey Road carries not one, but two references to “the Queen”!


“Polythene Pam”

30. Lennon’s voice in “Polythene Pam”– it’s gritty, it’s raspy, it’s sneery, it’s electric!


“She Came in Through the Bathroom Window”

31. Lennon’s laugh and snarling yell — “Oh, look out!” — at the beginning of “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window”.

32. The prominent guitars in “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window”.


“Golden Slumbers”

33. The weirdness of some of the inspirations behind these songs — the 17th-century Thomas Dekker poem that inspired the lyrics of “Golden Slumbers,” Yoko Ono playing a song backward on the piano for “Because,” a girl literally sneaking in through Paul McCartney’s bathroom. window

34. The eruption in “Golden Slumbers”, converting the song into such a strange, unexpectedly brash lullaby.

35. The line, “Smiles awake you when you rise”.

36. The emotional twinge of “once there was a way to get back home” — it feels like McCartney is at once acknowledging how far they’ve all come, how far away they all are (we all are) from home, and also taking it upon himself to reassure us. “Sleep, pretty darling, do not cry, and I will sing a lullaby.”


“Carry That Weight”

37. How there’s a weight in “She’s So Heavy”, and there’s a weight in “Carry That Weight”. and they’re carried differently.

38. The guitars from “You Never Give Me Your Money” coming back in a reprise in “Carry That Weight”.


“The End”

39. The trade-off of solos in “The End”, which the group recorded in only one take, specifically…

40….Ringo Starr’s drum solo, which gets its own list item. It was his only drum solo in the history of The Beatles, and like so many of his other parts, it remains iconic and instantly recognizable now. Starr’s drumming is remarkable for its quiet uniqueness — he’s there to be a backbone, a heartbeat to their creative and ever-evolving sound. It never gets too crazy — at least not more so than the instruments surrounding it — but then again, what heartbeat should?

41. The fact that they called the last song “The End”. The Beatles were always self-aware, but never went overboard with it — their songs never focused overly on their fame or success or status as a band, so much as emotions and personal relationships shrouded (often, but not always) through more general poetry. Part of the fun of listening to The Beatles is in fact in the digging out of the specifics — the endless interpretation of their haziest and most random lyrics, and the delight of recognizing the little moments when they do explicitly reference themselves and each other. But with a few exceptions, all of their albums are landmarked in time less by references to specific relationships or people and more by whatever the band was trying out artistically that year. Their music’s universality is one of their most often-cited credits. The emotional resonance — the love, the scathing, the excitement, the desperation — is always there underneath; they just keep on finding new expressions for it.

42. On Abbey Road, they let their self-awareness rise to the surface a little more: They know it’s the end, literally, of the road. “The End”, with its famous line, “And in the end, the love you take / Is equal to the love you make,” puts a neat seal on the years-long story that they crafted with their music and fame and friendship — it gives each one of them an equal place in the spotlight, and it chooses its own ending message and chooses for that message to be one of love.


“Her Majesty”

43. “Her Majesty”, the first-ever hidden track on an album, began as an accident — the rough opening and ending of the recording are because it was initially meant to come between “Mean Mr Mustard” and “Polythene Pam”. The ending result only came to be because EMI policy forbids the destruction of any Beatles recording, and engineer John Kurlander attached it to the end of the album rather than destroy it as McCartney had initially asked.

44. Compared to the rest of the album, “Her Majesty” feels sweet, quick, and ordinary, and, ironically, considering everything, one of the things people loved about The Beatles from the very beginning was how ordinary and relatable they felt. Once upon a time, in a moment so distant in time it feels unreal to us now, they were young, they were friends, they were working-class. They just liked writing songs together.

45. The sweet relief of “Her Majesty”. If you’re listening to Abbey Road and really thinking about The Beatles, really thinking about this album as the end of The Beatles, it hits hard when you get to the end. It’s the end. And then, after all that, after the end, you get 26 quick seconds of Paul McCartney singing about a pretty nice girl. “Someday I’m gonna make her mine.” It’s a simple little twist to the heart — what they’re best at.


Miscellaneous

Paul McCartney crosses Abbey Road

Paul McCartney crosses Abbey Road

46. Naming the album after the street of their recording studio. They were honoring all of their past successful ventures there while they also must have known they were crossing over into the next phases of their careers. Speaking of which…

47.…the cover, of course. An iconic image, with not a mention anywhere of the name of the group or of the album — much has been made.

48. The tension. No story lacks conflict, true or fiction, and to pretend The Beatles created these final recordings completely harmoniously, to pretend as a group they were on the same page about all or any of this, would be unfruitful and untrue. You can’t have Abbey Road without the tension that filled that period of the band’s existence, and you can’t have an article about Abbey Road without acknowledging that, either. But on the other side of that tension, there’s also…

49.…the intention behind it. Abbey Road happened because after the Let It Be sessions, McCartney wanted them all to get back together with George Martin and just create an album like they had used to, as a group. They were trying to enjoy themselves, trying to tap into something personal about their group that they all still shared and valued. Trying to work together — and they did.

50. The forward motion, compared to Let It Be. As their two final albums, Let It Be was the last one to be released, but Abbey Road was the last recorded. Let It Be — its tension immortalized in the documentary film of the same name — saw them trying to return to their stripped-back, rock ‘n’ roll roots and resulted in bubbling-over hostility from all sides. Lennon and McCartney were more at odds than ever; Harrison briefly quit the band entirely. The album that resulted from it is nostalgic, funny, thoughtful, and gutting.

Abbey Road carries with it a different intention — a more hopeful feeling, as far as endings go — and you can hear it. There are threads all throughout the album of their earlier work, the history that has brought them to their peak levels of success — but there’s no hard effort to return to anything. They’re not trying to go back to the basics or back, strictly, to anything. They’re just along for one last ride. If the intention behind Let It Be was, Remember why you loved us — or, better, Remember why we loved usAbbey Road is the album that carries it out, ironically through entirely different technical means. You listen to Abbey Road and you go, Oh, yeah, The Beatles. The Beatles had an adventurous spirit. The Beatles had fun. They were smart. They fought. They made me cry. The Beatles were always going somewhere.

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